By Karen Ireson
Researching your Fermanagh roots requires the same basic principles as starting a family tree; you need to collect information from your family, friends, neighbours and previous generations in your tree: names, dates and locations of deaths, marriages, births and any other useful points of reference. These might be occupations or simply school details for the youngest of your Fermanagh roots.
Always keep an open mind when it comes to spellings of names, they can change a lot over time for all kinds of reasons. Also ages are often not correct in the records you look at; census entries are notorious for this. Be prepared to ‘think outside the box’ if you fail to find what you are looking for; theorise the potential reasons why the record is missing, try alternative approaches to your searches. For example, birth records are often recorded before the baby had been given a name, and may not come up on a search by the name you know them by or have acquired from other records. So, alter your search and look instead for the children born to a mother’s maiden name.
The way you search records is just as important as the details you use. There are millions of records and thousands of people with similar names, especially on the main websites such as: Ancestry, Find My Past and Roots Ireland or on the General Registry Office Northern Ireland (GRONI) site for example. Using these sites, you can do wide searches putting in small amounts of information or narrow searches putting in a lot of information or using filtering to reduce a large number of results.
To be successful in any search you do need to know some facts to begin with, to differentiate your ancestor from others sharing the same name. In Fermanagh knowing the townland or parish where an ancestor came from can be key to finding the right record. The religious denomination of the person you are looking for can be helpful but the record you seek may not always be in the anticipated church records; people often changed religion or even followed two denominations. Before civil registration began (1845 for Non-Catholic marriages 1864 for all other records. Not all events were registered though, particularly in the early years.) other religions were supposed to register events in the Established Church in their parish, so you can find Presbyterian or Methodist marriages in Church of Ireland records. Not everyone however recorded their events.
Townlands are divisions of parishes and are areas of land that range in size from a few acres to thousands of acres. Names of townlands in records are often misunderstood by researchers who come from outside Ireland, as they are only used here. We are very fond of our townlands here in Fermanagh and we still use them today in many of our addresses.
Very often in the records you can find names of extended families all living in the same townland or neighbouring townlands. An excellent website to view townlands in detail is a site dedicated to Griffith’s Valuation. This was a land survey undertaken in the 1860’s all over Ireland to determine what rates had to be paid by landholders/landlords/occupiers of land. It provides invaluable information about who was where in Fermanagh and the rest of Ireland and is the major source of genealogical data before the 1901 and 1911 census returns. Although census returns were taken every ten years here (the same as in England) the earlier returns for Ireland were either pulped for paper during the First World War or were destroyed in the fire at the Irish Archive in the Four Courts in Dublin in 1922. However, because of this loss the surviving census records for Fermanagh and the rest of Ireland can be accessed for free (1901 and 1911 census records).
In preparation for your Fermanagh research, try to: gather your ancestors’ names and name variants; dates of births, marriages or deaths; the locations where these events may have taken place; the religion they may have been placed under; parents or siblings’ details can also help.
If your family emigrated from Ireland there may be shipping records (Mellon Centre for migration studies in Omagh) of their journey to their new lives. Immigration records can sometimes provide useful information to help you search for your Fermanagh roots locations. For America Immigration Records can be found on Ellis Island site & Castle Garden site
The primary rule in all your research should be patience and being methodical. Work back through life events: births>marriages>deaths, one by one, generation by generation, as it can be very easy to make assumptions and head down a false line. Keep a good research journal, noting where you searched your records, what you searched for and what you found. You will always need to refer back to these notes on your journey for your Fermanagh roots.
If you have Fermanagh military ancestors you can visit the Royal Inniskillings Military Museum website or have research done for you by them, if you find your ancestor is in one of their regiments.
The Fermanagh Genealogy Centre in Enniskillen is another place which family historians can visit to get free help and guidance with their Fermanagh research. Enthusiastic volunteers assist visitors with Fermanagh records, signposting them where to look for information and demonstrating online sites.
Enniskillen Library local history section has some very useful resources for family historians and some lovely helpful personnel who can provide assistance. They keep local newspaper archives on microfilm, local historical literature, reference books and maps.
There are also online photograph archives containing Fermanagh images. There is also a new facebook page called ‘Old Enniskillen’ that posts many old images of the area. Fermanagh Genealogy Centre runs a facebook page and a website where useful items are posted and queries can be answered.
Enniskillen Castle’s website hosts a section where queries can be posted and appointments can also be booked for assistance in our Fermanagh Genealogy centre. There is also a family history information leaflet that signposts useful websites to assist in one’s family tree research in Fermanagh.